Mary claimed she was too old to ask other people to help them set up house like they were two kids just out of uni, so the night before the wedding they host a party to raise funds for the women’s shelter in London where Mary volunteered on weekends. As long as Mary’s happy, John’s happy, too. He invites everyone he knew, from before and after. Sarah Sawyer, Molly Hooper, Lestrade, Mike Stamford, Mrs. Hudson, Sherlock.
Sherlock. Back from the dead several months now. John had been engaged to Mary for just over three when Sherlock showed up at his front door. Falling in love with her went a long way to putting his grief in its proper place, so when he opened the door to see Sherlock on his steps while Mary sang along to James Morrison in the kitchen, he didn’t do anything more dramatic than blink twice. He listened to the story, and used the silence in his gut and Mary’s friendly welcoming presence to calculate down to the millimeter exactly how far behind he’d left Sherlock.
So Sherlock is there, a silent presence on the party’s periphery. When John glances at him, he finds Sherlock watching him, an expression John doesn't recognize on his face before it smooths back into the familiar calculating disdain.
After several bottles of wine the girls from Mary’s office blindfolded her for tricky little tests of compatibility. Could she pick out John’s hand in hers? Or his kiss on her cheek? His biceps when flexed?
She got them all right, but John knew she would. Not because he was memorable, but because Mary bestowed her attention as a form of blessing, received his like a gift. The opposite of Sherlock, if he thought about it, which he didn’t, but he did. He is the third person to hold her hand, and she knew it was him before he even gave it the little squeeze he always did when they clasped hands. He is the last person to kiss her cheek, and the only one to feel it heat under his lips as she blushed. He is the second to last person to present his flexed biceps, and again, she knew immediately. But when they made love, her hands always started there, using his flexed upper arms to hold herself in place, stroking and caressing before the pleasure deepened and widened, and her hands flattened in demand at the small of his back.
The thought melds nicely with John’s pleasant buzz. The mood turns a little saucy, a hint of heat with the sweet like the combination of cayenne pepper and dried cranberries in the rice salad Mary made. He’s trying to figure out how to remove all these people from their flat so he could take her to bed when Mary’s friend Ginny holds the blindfold out to her. “Go on, then,” she says, glancing at John.
He stands with his arm around Mary’s waist. His hand falls to her hip when she turns to him and lifts her eyebrows. “Only fair,” she says.
He takes his seat on the stool and lets Mary blindfold him. She leans forward, puts her hands on his hips, and murmurs, “I like this look on you.”
“As long as I get a go,” he says, then catches her lips in a soft kiss.
“Later,” Ginny chides.
The biceps test is first, and the easiest. Mary wears a deep v-neck, sleeveless blouse and has a scar on the underside of her arm where she caught it going over a fence in her hellion days. Choosing the right soft, marred skin is child’s play. The kiss is almost as easy. Mary’s mouth is soft and full, and she goes easy on him by making the same satisfied little purring noise she makes when he kisses her good morning.
The hands prove trickier. Mary has small hands, thin fingers, usually cold (low metabolism not thyroid problems), but the flat is close and fire-heated. Everyone’s hands are warm. He hears rings clink onto the sofa table as the players rearrange themselves for this game. Taking the rings off made sense; Mary dislikes jewellery and refused an engagement ring, opting instead for an unassuming gold band and a three week honeymoon, rather than two.
The first hand has the soft, thin skin of the aging, and gnarled knuckles. “How’s the new arthritis medication working, Mrs. Hudson?” he asks.
“Just fine, dear,” she says to chuckles all around.
The next hand is rough and obtrusively male. “No,” he says immediately, then adds, “Lestrade.” Laughter, this time. John likes being the center of attention every so often. It happens so rarely when Sherlock was in the room.
Is this what it was like to be Sherlock, presented with a problem he has to solve, taking in data with heightened senses? Under the spotlight, everyone watching? He runs through the next three in quick succession, Harry, his mum, and Sarah. The next hand to brush against his palm barely skims his skin, so he suspects Molly. She’s shy, tentative, and despite his utter safety as an engaged man who’s her good friend, reluctant to touch him.
But the hand is quite large, too large to be Molly. Dry. Warm.
“Hmmm,” he says, turning the hand palm up, then back to palm down. Scott, the male nurse at the office? He’s got no problems holding hands with a man. John is unabashedly bisexual, and Mary knows. In the right mood, she likes to hear about it, and John does love telling stories.
When they first met, when he’d learned to breathe around the grief, he told he what used his hands to do. The saving, and the killing. In the silence after he finished, she clasped his hands with hers and kissed them.
No, not Mary, nor the female nurse who stands six feet tall and has the hands of a farmer, nor the fleshy palms of Mike Stamford. The pressure increases, long fingers at his wrist, the middle finger stroking the shallow cup of his palm.
He’s forgotten the point of the game. This clearly isn’t Mary’s hand, but it should be because he’s responding like he did to Mary in the heady first days of their relationship. His breath rushes loud in his ears. Blood pumps through veins suddenly too small to contain the hot rush. He’s broken out in a sweat, face flushed under the blindfold.
The room has gone silent except for the aching song about what you won't do for love.
“I’m not sure,” he says with a laugh. It’s a mistake. Even to him his voice sounds low and rough, obviously affected.
He trails his fingers along fingers that curl into his as he finds a leathery spot at the tips. Not quite a callus. A thickening of the skin, from the pressure necessary to call heart-rending notes from violin strings. His heart stutters.
Jesus God. Sherlock is holding his hand.
John’s fingers spasm as a jolt of desire shoots straight to his cock, illuminating his nipples along the way, but he doesn't pull away. He lets Sherlock turn their hands and weave their fingers together like they are lovers.
He can’t breathe.
He has to let go. They are not alone. The fire crackling in the grate isn’t at 221B. The thumb caressing the fleshy base of his palm is the one from his dreams, but he’s no longer the man who dreamed those dreams.
“Sherlock,” he says quietly. The single word uses all the air remaining in his lungs.
Sherlock steps away, and John shoves up his blindfold. At the sudden glare his pupils constrict; in his swimming vision he sees the faces of the people he loves. Harry looks horrified, which is saying something, given the number of parties she’s ruined. His mother looks worried. Molly looks sad, and Lestrade looks blank, which means it’s bad.
Mary’s face is stricken.
He stares at her. Sherlock stands in his peripheral vision, but John won’t let himself look at him.
Then Mary lifts her chin, steps forward, and takes his hand, his left hand, the hand Sherlock just held. She brings it to her mouth and kisses the back, then leans forward and kisses him. “Mine,” she whispers against his mouth.
“Yours,” he whispers back, and knows it to be true.
Because she loves him. Because he loves her. Because he's loyal to the death, because he doesn't quit, he doesn’t betray, because he doesn't fucking leave. Love isn’t about never feeling the impulse of attraction. It’s about choosing to which impulses to act on.
But confirmation of something long suspected slides into him with the exactness of a scalpel. Blood wells from an incision so precise the nerves don't register the violation until they're sewn up. It fucking aches.
“Who wants more wine?” Sarah asks lightly.
Sarah tops off his glass, and Mary gives his hand a squeeze before dropping it to talk to his Mum. John slides off the stool and tries to pull himself together.
Sherlock sits on the porch railing, smoking one of his filthy, unfiltered cigarettes. He picked up the habit again while he was gone, which tells John he was in places amenable to smoking, without easy access to patches, and strung tight. At some level John wonders how Sherlock got along without John to keep him in life’s little necessities like food and legal stimulants. Did Sherlock talk to him while he was gone? Assume John was still listening, that his hot earth voice would escape a silent, frozen grave?
John stays in the square of light projecting from the living room window. No impropriety. No one will wonder what happened out here.
“That was a wildly inappropriate thing to do in front of my fiancee,” John says. “Not to mention my mother.”
Sherlock exhales smoke through nose and mouth, locks eyes with John, then lifts his deft, long-fingered hand to his mouth. He wipes his thumb across his lower lip, the same thumb that stroked John’s nerves into fire. John watches the movement. It’s the most provocative thing Sherlock’s done in his presence and if he’d done it before the fall, looked at John like cinder-eyed sex while touching his mouth like he’s testing the plushness for John’s cock, John would have been his, forever.
Sherlock inhales. The tip of the cigarette glows red. John can hear the draw, the crackle of tobacco and paper and a future together burning to ash.
“You shouldn’t have left,” John says.
Silence. Then, “Meet at the church at eleven?”
“Yes,” John says.
With one last draw, Sherlock smokes the cig down to the nub, then flicks the burning ember into the darkness. His hands rest empty on his thighs. John goes inside before he says something he regrets, something he can’t take back. Tomorrow, with Sherlock as his witness he will speak vows to love, honor, and cherish, vows he will not betray. Mary's ring, the gold band they chose together, will slide on the hand Sherlock held, until death does them part.